We need health systems that are climate-resilient

Heads of State, including Uganda's President Museveni (white mask) and other leaders from Commonwealth nations attend the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Kigali Convention Centre in Rwanda on June 24, 2022. PHOTO/COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • The issue: Kigali Declaration
  • Our view: If followed to the letter, we believe the poorer nations of the Commonwealth—such as Uganda—will not have to grapple with the burden of misfortune and grief as is currently the case.

President Museveni’s decision to wear a mask during the official opening of the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, last Friday was doubtless intended as more than a symbolic gesture.

President Museveni has been fairly consistent in declaring that the Covid-19 pandemic is not a destination but an ongoing journey. While the current spike in Covid-19 infections bears little resemblance to Delta’s infectiousness that blindsided Uganda this time last year, speaking of Omicron almost as a run-of-the-mill pathogen is foolhardy. That the pushback from Ugandans at seeing their President mask up during an in-person event was visceral should perhaps come as no vulgar surprise. Such is the vaccine hesitancy in Uganda that Covid-19 jabs worth Shs173b reached the end of their shelf life without finding arms. The sell-by date of others worth Shs160b is due in three months.

Given this rather vexing backdrop, the optics of Mr Museveni gracing an indoors event in a mask are hardly infernal. But as Chogm 2022 reminded us, it’s not only Covid-19 where African countries—like Uganda—have registered a modicum of success. Malaria’s toll among African children—estimated by past World Health Organisation reports to claim a life within a two-minute timeframe—demonstrates, with deadly spectacle, why the disease shouldn’t be mentioned as an afterthought. This rings true even as the pandemic continues to rear an ugly head.

This is why the Kigali Declaration’s commitment to halving malaria in Commonwealth countries by 2023 is enormously welcome. The other commitment “to work towards ending the epidemic…by 2030” also, we believe, adds to the feeling of gain. Not least because the 2021 World Malaria Report burns into our consciousness the fact that there were 241 million cases of malaria and 627,000 malaria deaths in 2020.

The declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) such as sleeping sickness, dengue, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, and leishmaniasis should also quieten the angst of the Commonwealth’s African members. The fact that $100m will be ring-fenced to advance research and development of an NTD programme dedicated to producing novel drug candidates is quite gratifying.

It obviously is not lost on the Commonwealth that the yawning chasm between the global north and global south means the wealth of its now 56-strong membership is anything but common. One of the triggers of the disparities is health. Excuse the cliché, health is wealth. We reckon it was refreshing that Chogm 2022’s final communiqué recognised this undisputed fact. Heads and their representatives at the summit conceded to “the need to ensure health systems are climate-resilient in order to prevent and respond effectively to climate-related illness and emergencies.”

If followed to the letter, we believe the poorer nations of the Commonwealth—such as Uganda—will not have to grapple with the burden of misfortune and grief as is currently the case. For now, though, no amount of masking can conceal the fact that misplaced priorities and global asymmetries have the aforesaid nations swimming against the tide.

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